E Pluribus Unum, For Better Or Worse

Perhaps you’ve looked at a map and thought it might be a good idea if the United States came apart at the seams. I have. If only we could make those other people go away!

Abraham Lincoln didn’t agree, of course, but he never met our current president or Mitch McConnell. 

Akim Reinhardt, a history professor in Maryland, says we should seriously consider the idea:

Is there anything more clichéd than some spoiled, petulant celebrity publicly threatening to move to Canada if the candidate they most despise wins an election? These tantrums have at least four problems:

1. As if Canada wants you. Please.
2. Mexico has way better weather and food than Canada. Why didn’t you threaten to move there? Is it because of all the brown people? No, you insist. Is it the language? Well then if you do make it to Canada, here’s hoping they stick you in Quebec.
3. New Zealand seems to be the hip new Canada. I’ve recently heard several people threaten to move there. News flash, Americans: New Zealand wants you even less than Canada does.
4. [Note: #4 isn’t really a problem so I’m leaving it out.]

. . . I’ve got a much better alternative: Stay put and begin a serious, adult conversation about disuniting the states.

If, through the vagaries of the Electoral College, 45% of U.S. voters really do run this nation into an authoritarian kleptocratic, dystopian ditch, then instead of fleeing with your gilded tail between your legs, stay and help us reconfigure the nation. It might be the sanest alternative to living in Txxxx’s tyranny of the minority, in which racism and sexism are overtly embraced, the economy is in shambles, the pandemic rages unabated, and abortion may soon be illegal in most states as an ever more conservative Supreme Court genuflects to corporate interests and religious extremists.

And of course it cuts both ways. Should current polls hold and Joe Biden manage to win the election with just over half the popular vote, those on the losing side will be every bit as upset. So upset that they too would likely open to a conversation about remaking an America.

Indeed, no matter how this turns out, about half the nation will feel like they can no longer live with what America is becoming, even as they live in it. The losing side, whichever it may be, will want to wrest this country back from those who seem increasingly alien to them. So perhaps national salvation comes when the winning side remains open to a discussion the losers will launch about radically redesigning the United States. . . .

It is time for the rest of us to begin a serious discussion about national disincorporation. About disuniting the states. Because no matter who wins, about half the nation will not want to live with it. Tens of millions of Americans on the losing side will not trust the winner to govern fairly, competently, or with the nation’s best interests at heart.

It’s a recipe for disaster. We need to get ahead of this discussion. . . .

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a unilateral declaration of secession and military assault on federal installations like the treasonous, Confederate slave-owners did in 1861. Rather, I am advocating serious discussions about untangling this fractured nation. For finding a peaceful, constitutional solution that either dissolves or drastically reconfigures the United States.

I believe it may be the most sensible and mature approach to dealing with a deeply riven partisan divide that has done nothing but worsen these last forty years, and increasingly breeds mutual frustration and resentment among tens of millions of Americans. The U.S. constitutional system is predicated on compromise, and the Republican Party has spent the last quarter-century working against compromise with increasing fervency. That’s not a smear, it’s a statement of fact. It’s a central tenet of their politics. Republicans are openly dismiss compromise and try to get everything they want and accept nothing they don’t.

It has become dysfunctional. And it’s not going to change anytime soon. . . .

Though perhaps unfathomable at first glance, we may actually be nearing the point where a majority of Americans are ready to call it quits on our current national incarnation. . . .

After all, in the world of national governments, 231 years is a really long time. And it wouldn’t even be our first rodeo.

We have done this before. The Constitution, drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1789, peacefully replaced an earlier form of United States national government organized under the Articles of Confederation. Yes, drafting the Constitution and getting the nation to adopt it over the Articles were difficult processes, hardly perfect, and engendered a fair bit of acrimony at the time. But it came about, peacefully (for the most part), and led to something that’s lasted well over two centuries.

Is it so impossible then to imagine the United States reconfiguring itself once again?

Of course a new United States could take many shapes. . . .

But regardless of what shape it might take, perhaps the most important thing is to have the conversation. Like adults. To talk about what it means to share national governance; how it’s working to our satisfaction, and how it’s not; and what we might do to improve it. . . .

Or perhaps, irony wins the day. Maybe serious discussion about disunion actually help decrease partisan tensions. Simply broaching the topic in a serious manner may force many Americans to recognize how close we are to losing we’ve always known.

Or perhaps such discussions really do lead many Americans to decide that it’s time to replace We the People, with You and Us the People.

Unquote.

Prof. Reinhardt has a few ideas about how this dismemberment might be accomplished. We might become two or three nations; change the Constitution to give more power to individual states; combine states or divide them up, etc. To use two old phrases, thinking about dividing the U.S. is a parlor game and a pipe dream.

Here’s one reason. Although we think of blue states and red states, some of them are purple. In addition, if you drill down further, America is an even greater mixture of blue and red. This is a map with counties marked blue or red depending on how they voted in 2016, with each county assigned space on the map based on its population.

countycartrb512

Assigning either blue, red or purple to each county based on the percentage that voted one way or the other would make it even harder to separate us by our political leanings.

I think a better and more practical solution will be to reinstate majority rule in the United States by making the Electoral College obsolete, getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate and granting statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. That would allow the federal government to pursue more progressive policies, which would help the economy, allow more social ills to be addressed and reduce inequality.

We also need to remove some of the emotion surrounding three issues: abortion, gun control and the Supreme Court. Abortions are already becoming more rare; putting more emphasis on education and birth control would reduce them further. Private ownership of guns is here to stay; but somehow we need to do what the majority of Americans want, i.e.  institute sensible gun control. A revised, clarified Second Amendment might allow us to do that while protecting a citizen’s “right to bear arms”. The Supreme Court has become too political. I’d add three seats, so we’d have 12 justices evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. No more 5-4 decisions. If a ruling can’t get a majority, let the lower court decision stand. 

Maybe thinking about how we could make America a better country for people on the right and left and in the middle is also a parlor game and a pipe dream. It seems to me, however, that a more perfect union is within our grasp if we make the effort. It would be much harder to make those other people go away.

Five Bad Men Screw Us Again

I didn’t want to write about the Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores. That’s the recent case in which the Republican majority ruled that a corporation can refuse to provide health insurance for certain kinds of contraception on religious grounds. However, one way to stop thinking about something is to write about it, and this is not a subject that’s fun to think about:

1) It’s no coincidence that the five Republicans on the Supreme Court are prone to rule against and ignore the rights of women to end or prevent pregnancies. Those five Republicans are all Roman Catholics.

2) Having previously declared that corporations should be allowed to spend on political campaigns because they have the same right to free speech that people do, the Republican majority has ruled again that corporations are no different from people. The law at issue in Burwell vs. Hobby states that the government should not “substantially burden a person’s religious beliefs”. Although corporations are treated as persons in some legal contexts, and it’s proper for the government to respect people’s religion up to a point, it makes no sense to ascribe religious beliefs to a corporation.

In addition, people’s right to practice their religion as they wish does not give them the right to harm other people. According to the majority opinion, however, a corporation can not only have religious beliefs, those beliefs should be honored even though acting on those beliefs negatively affects the corporation’s employees, their families and the rest of society (one of the majority’s suggestions is that taxpayers pay for contraception if corporations won’t – as if the Republicans in Congress would agree to that). 

3) Religion can be a wonderfully flexible way to justify all kinds of behavior. In this case, the corporations claimed that dropping all health insurance coverage for their employees, so that their employees could instead get insurance through the government-run exchanges, would also infringe on their (the corporations’) religious beliefs, even though allowing their employees to use the government exchanges would save the corporations money and benefit their employees. “It is our firmly-held, specific religious belief that you should get your health insurance through our company instead of a government website, but it shouldn’t cover certain kinds of care.” Right.

4) Allowing employers to dictate which health insurance their employees have, on religious or any other grounds, is yet another reason the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and adopt taxpayer-supported, government-regulated, single-payer health insurance.

5) The idea that the owners of a business shouldn’t be forced to spend money for something they don’t like assumes that the money in question is theirs, just like the money in your checking account is yours. However, economists have found that the money a company spends on health insurance would otherwise generally be paid to employees as wages. After all, health insurance is a form of compensation and businesses tend to offer as little compensation as possible (except for senior management, of course). As Uwe Reinhardt writes:

Evidently the majority of Supreme Court justices … believe that the owners of “closely held” business firms buy health insurance for their employees out of the kindness of their hearts and with the owners’ money. On that belief, they accord these owners the right to impose some of their personal preferences – in this case their religious beliefs — on their employee’s health insurance…. [But research shows that] the premiums ostensibly paid by employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees are actually part of the employee’s total pay package — the price of labor, in economic parlance – and that the cost of that fringe benefit is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.

6) This is a case in which religion is being allowed to trump science. These corporations object to particular kinds of contraception on the grounds that they are equivalent to having an abortion. But medical researchers have shown that the methods in question (certain intrauterine devices and the “morning after” pill) don’t actually work that way, as discussed here:

The owners of Hobby Lobby told the Court that they were willing to cover some forms of contraception but believed that the so-called morning-after pills and two kinds of IUDs can cause what they believe to be a type of abortion, by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall or causing an already implanted egg to fail to thrive… The scientific consensus is against this idea…Most scientists believe that [these methods] interfere with the ability of sperm to get to an egg in time to fertilize it before they die….Research does not support the idea that they prevent fertilized eggs to implant.

If a religious belief is based on faulty science, that belief should be given less respect by the rest of us. It’s safe to assume, for example, that even this Supreme Court would have ruled differently if the religious belief in question had been that certain kinds of contraception cause droughts.

7) There have been a lot of dumb arguments in favor of this decision or suggesting that it’s not a big deal. The truth is that this decision could set a very bad precedent, opening the door to other claims for special treatment, especially given the Republican majority on the Court. In addition, trying to find a job with another company isn’t a great option for many people; getting pregnant is a very big deal; IUD’s are among the most effective form of birth control; it can cost some women a month’s pay to get one; the morning after pill is an important option for women; and choosing to have sex shouldn’t disqualify people from getting appropriate medical care (people also choose to smoke, spend a lot of time on their couches and eat at McDonald’s). As the saying goes, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

8) It’s been clear since their decision in Bush vs. Gore, when the Republican justices decided that we didn’t need an accurate vote count in a Presidential election, that lacking proper legal justification for their decisions won’t stop them from advancing their political agenda. All Supreme Court justices issue rulings consistent with their political perspectives, but these particular justices are extremists. They may have some shame, but it’s hardly worth mentioning.